Given the title of this review, you might assume I’m going to focus on the Estelon XB’s shapely figure. And, to be sure, there is that. The XB—like all Estelons—has one of the most sensuous silhouettes on the market. The speaker is all curves and smoothness, rather like, well, the female body that it resembles in a Picasso-esque way. So, yes, the XB exudes an aesthetic that is the antithesis of modern slab speakers.
But the style is not just aesthetic—it’s also musical. Allow me to explain: All good musicians employ techniques such as shading the tone of their instrument or voice, playing with rhythms, and subtly varying dynamics in order to inject tension and repose, melodic line, and expressive tonal color into what would otherwise be a rote series of notes. Truly great musicians—from symphony orchestra conductors to soloists and singers—go even further; they use these elements to stamp their music with a style that is all their own. If an audio component can capture that, it can offer the listener a connection beyond the music to the players themselves. This is what the Estelon XB, under the right circumstances, can do.
When I first began listening to the XB, I didn’t immediately recognize that it possessed this rare ability. My first impression was of enormous resolution, particularly the sort of timbral resolution that makes instruments ring true. A great example is the first track I played, “Rainbow,” from the new Robert Plant album Lullaby and the Ceaseless Roar. I had just auditioned this song on my reference system of CH Precision electronics driving my one-of-a-kind Metaphor 1 speakers, and the main thing I came away thinking was what a lousy recording it was. Then I re-played the track with the CH gear driving the Estelon XB’s—and my eyes bugged out. No, the recording had not miraculously improved, but suddenly the opening drum thwack was tangible rather than a poor facsimile. What accounted for the difference? Certainly the dynamic burst from dead silence, but the illusion was primarily due to the drum’s fleshed-out timbre.
The same proved true for other instruments. Through the XB, the acoustic guitar on “The Dress Looks Nice on You” from Sufjan Stevens’ Seven Swans has an exquisite richness and true-to-life body. The violin and doublebass on the Pentatone SACD of Stravinsky’s l’Histoire du Soldat have individual strings, and the brass has both spit and burnish. On Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, the upright bass’ hollow cavity and thick strings are palpable.
Soon, though, I began to realize that I was not just hearing a lot of detail; something more was going on. The XB was taking me beyond engagement with the music to engagement with the players themselves. I didn’t grasp this all at once, but over time. The sensation came to a head while I was listening to my go-to jazz CD, Michael Wolff’s 2am. As with other pieces I’d tried through the Estelon, the first thing I noticed was the XB’s sensational timbral richness. Through this speaker, Wolff’s grand piano’s lower registers roll like a bowling ball across the room, while the top keys tinkle and sing. Further, every note in between speaks with the unique voice of its position on the keyboard.